Who is Really in the Book Business?

BordersCustomers

Here are two customers who missed the memo — this is a still image from video I shot in June 2012, months after all Borders stores closed.

I wish I could say that I have many fond childhood memories of trips to the local independent bookstore. But the truth is that my dad used to take me to the local Barnes & Noble or Borders at least once a week in the summer, and I loved it. I’d spend hours browsing the aisles, trying to decide what to read next. Sometimes we’d go to both stores in one night. Back then I had no idea that these big chains were hurting local bookstores, nor did I understand that they were symbols of consumerism. Now that I’m an adult and a supporter of all things literary and independent, I get it — but I’m still saddened when I discover that both the Barnes & Noble and Borders I went to as a child have since closed.

Last week The Wall Street Journal reported that Barnes & Noble will be closing as many as a third of its stores in the next 10 years. The announcement once again had people talking: Is this the death of the book? Is this the end of the mainstream bookseller? The chief executive of Barnes & Noble’s retail group says it’s all part of the business evolving, and that the company will stick around.

As someone who is studying the independent publishing community, I have mixed feelings about this news from Barnes & Noble. I feel guilty for being a little sad about B&N’s need to downsize.

Just after this news broke last week, I watched an old favorite movie: You’ve Got Mail. (I spent the bulk of January at home sick, and I discovered that You’ve Got Mail plays several times a week on TV; it could not be avoided.) Watching the romantic comedy this year was more like a history lesson, a reminder of the ever-evolving publishing industry. Here is Kathleen Kelly, owner of the sweet, independent Shop Around the Corner, and Joe Fox, one of the owners of the big, bad, corporate Fox & Sons Books. Early on in the movie, the two are at a party, and Fox accurately guesses how much Kelly makes in sales each year. Kelly asks, “How did you know that?” and Fox replies “I’m in the book business.” Kelly looks taken aback and says, “I’m in the book business.”

Fast forward 14 years after the movie is released, and here we are. Today, it would likely be Fox’s store who is closing. Where would the picketers go with their signs and their chant of “One, two, three, four — We don’t want your superstore”? Perhaps outside of the Amazon headquarters? More likely they’d just write a lot of angry comments and blog posts online.

Maybe it’s karma. The big bookstores weren’t really in the book business, not like the independents. And so the “suits” like Joe Fox got what was coming to them. But still, part of me fears that this is a loss for all of us, and another win for online retailers. The enemy has simply changed from a physical one to a virtual one. And that enemy isn’t just around the corner — it’s a few clicks away!

As more of these stores disappear, my hope is that people turn back to the independents, back to the basics and the intimacy of a locally-owned shop. These small stores who survived the coming of mainstream retailers may be better equipped to handle the future, and unlike the stores we find in malls, they have a truly loyal customer base.

While I am working to share the stories of local independent publishers, my hope is to next share the stories of the booksellers. What are their next moves? How are they surviving? I hope to soon find out.

What a Storyteller is Thankful For

Happy Thanksgiving, friends! I hope all of you are relaxing and enjoying this time with family and friends. If you’re like me and working in a little personal writing and editing projects today, enjoy! For some reason, ever since I was a kid, I found holidays a great time to sneak in a little writing or reading that I’ve been wanting to do but haven’t yet. So if you’re sneaking off after all that food to read or write a little, I’m with you!

I’ve had a lot to be thankful for this past year — all the new, fantastic and passion-filled projects I’ve had a chance to work on; all the great organizations, clubs and small businesses I’ve engaged with; all the new friends and connections I’ve met — but I want to turn my focus today on what a storyteller is thankful for (or for what a storyteller is thankful, but seriously, no one would say that in daily speech). As writers, filmmakers and editors, it’s important to take time and recognize the people and groups who help our projects come to life. The following list is from my perspective, but I hope my fellow writers and storytellers will agree on some of these:

  • Our God-given talent and passion. Obviously, we wouldn’t be who we are without our love for stories and our ability to communicate them to our audience. This is something nobody can take away from us, unless we get in our own way. Remember that!
  • Mentors. I am certainly thankful for my family, friends, bosses and professors who encouraged me along the way, and who, to this day, continue to support my endeavors.
  • Our community and peers (including all writing programs). Our community of writers and storytellers is vital to our success, whether we found them on our own or through formal writing programs. Regardless of which types of stories we tell, we all understand each other and what it’s like to hit a rough patch. We are also the first to support each other — the Chicago writing scene is proof of that. I am certainly thankful for the writing community that has sprung up in Chicago and which hosts many great events to support local writers.
  • Independent presses and other independent groups. Independent, small businesses are a great home for us. Gone are the days when you could only see success with a big, corporate entity. Small and independent is the way to go, and it will help ensure your project is seen and heard in a way that makes you proud.
  • Our critics. Yeah, they suck and they make us angry, but we wouldn’t be where we are without our critics. Maybe we learned a valuable lesson from them, or maybe they are just excellent motivators. If all people did was praise us, would we keep going? Or would we just get bored and have nothing to say?
  • People who have ridiculously loud public conversations or act ridiculous in public. Seriously, you get so many great ideas from these people! You can form a whole character based on something you heard on the street — or you end up with a great idea for a documentary.
  • The Legends. Let’s not forget the ones who came before us and who continue to inspire to us. They are likely the people whose work you go to when you need a lift, and they are probably the ones who wrote the book of advice you’ve come to rely on. (Anyone else a huge fan of Bird by Bird?)
  • Our subjects and our audience. Nonfiction storytellers are always grateful for those who took the time to share their stories with us, so that we might share them with others. And of course, don’t forget the people who listen to all of our stories — they are the ones who keep us going, and who we also hope to help in some way.

So, storytellers, what did I miss? I hope you all enjoy your holiday, and that it leaves you with many stories to tell!

Thoughts on Graduating

Last month, I completed my last graduate school course, bringing to an end six years of college courses. It was a lot of time in the classroom, but I would not trade the experience for any other. For me, returning to school was the right choice.

As I move further and further away from my days in class, I’m sometimes afraid I’ll forget all of the amazing, wise advice I received from my graduate school professors. I am admittedly one of those people who holds on to all of her old school notebooks, thinking that maybe someday I’ll need the inspiration, and flip through them once again. I didn’t just learn writing skills in graduate school — I learned how to enjoy living the life of a writer.

“Why We Write,” an article by Jennifer Baker in the July/August issue of Poets and Writers Magazine, addressed an issue all of us graduating students are afraid of: never writing after we leave school. We fall into life’s routines, going to work and coming home. It’s easy to do — writing is very much an isolated activity. After we leave school, no one is sitting over our shoulder making us write. We have to remember how writing makes us feel, how it enhances our lives.

In one of my last courses, my professor put a quote on the top of the syllabus: Woody Allen said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” Even though I’ve heard it stated various ways by many professional writers — “You can’t be a writer if you aren’t writing” and “Get your butt in the chair” — this quote always inspires me. As writers and storytellers, we have the benefit of knowing what our passion is and knowing exactly what makes us happy. The tricky part is actually following through.

To make sure we keep writing, we can’t be afraid to own who we are. Another professional writer who visited my last graduate school course told us to “own the fact that you are a writer.” He said it took him a long time to do that, and he wished he’d done it sooner. His words really resonated with me, since my purpose in returning to school was to finally own who I really wanted to be. And regardless of what happens next, regardless of how many articles or books I do or do not publish, that is an amazing feeling.

I’ve been thinking about my future as a storyteller more and more after a recent interview on BigThink with Dr. Meg Jay, author of The Defining Decade. She reinforces how important it is to figure out who you are and own it. Dr. Jay’s message is to make your 20’s matter: Don’t waste these years thinking that you can’t accomplish anything yet. Don’t waste these years thinking that you can just be who you really are later. No matter what your age, the point is to live in the present, and do what you love now. The truth is that it only gets harder to do this as you get older, as you take on more responsibilities — so why wait?

I made my 20’s matter by going back to school and pursuing the path I really wanted to take. My path may not have been linear, and it may not have been the one everyone else would choose at first glance, but each step was worth it in order to get me where I am today.

I am a writer. I am a storyteller. If that is the one and only thing I remember from graduate school, and if that is the one and only thing I take away from my 20’s, then I’ll consider both the degree and the decade a success.

Post-Grad News: My New Role at Career Girl Network


I’m excited to announce that I’ve taken on a bigger role at Career Girl Network. As of this week, I am now the Digital Content Editor.

After finishing my last graduate school class, I wanted to find a job I truly enjoyed with great coworkers. I have loved working with Marcy Twete and Career Girl, and am thrilled to join the team. I’ll be helping manage CGN’s daily posts, including creating a style guide for writers, and developing video projects.

I plan to continue my personal side projects: the independent press anthology video and book. I am also launching a freelance business, and am currently looking to take on new projects, including any writing and video work. Here’s what kind of services I can offer:

Video (includes shooting, editing and posting to the web)

  • Corporate events
  • Academic or business panels
  • Testimonials for a business
  • Online video promos for individuals, businesses and nonprofits
  • News or feature reports

Writing

  • Copyediting
  • Feature articles (for business, technology, career and lifestyle)
  • Web copy
  • News copy
  • Blog posts and columns

Until I am able to get examples up on my website, please contact me for video samples. For writing samples, feel free to check out my weekly recap posts from Career Girl Network, which showcase my writing from each week.

Please contact me at marcyfarrey@nullgmail.com with any questions.

The Storytelling and Life Balance

I’m currently in my last graduate school course, and in it, we focus on the writing life: How do you start getting paid for your work?  How do you start publishing?  How do you make sure you still write even after school is over?  Basically, how do you apply everything you’ve learned in school to the real world?

One of our assignments was to get out and experience Chicago’s writing scene.  Last Friday, I attended a book signing at The Book Cellar, where I listened to author Nichole Bernier speak about her first novel: The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D.  Prior to writing the novel, Bernier had not experimented much with fiction writing.  She wrote primarily nonfiction, but she found herself turning to her fictional work more and more.

Bernier surprised the audience when she said she was working freelance, caring for five children and writing her book at the same time.  Naturally, someone asked if she believed that women could “have it all.”  Rather than saying it could all be done, she explained that sometimes you have to give up certain things in order to do what you really love to do.  Maybe you don’t give as much attention to your hobbies — she said she didn’t run a marathon, for example.

This idea of balancing life and creative work is something that comes up often in conversations with my classmates and professors.  Can you write well if you aren’t out there living?  Can you really devote enough time to writing if you are too busy living?  At what point, exactly, do you put down the pen, close the laptop, and walk away?

After hearing a series of guest speakers in class and after attending readings, it is obvious that everyone has a different writing method that works for them: some get up early, some stay up late, some take very long breaks, some never take breaks, and others simply write when they can work it into their schedule.  All of these writers, though, agree on one thing: you have to be writing in order to be a writer.  If you have a craft, you must be practicing that craft.

For Bernier and these writers, writing is a given.  When it’s not there, when you don’t do it, you can feel it calling you back.  Writing becomes a part of you.  Bernier said we have to ask ourselves what we would do if we only had two hours left and no obligations and no one else around.  As writers, or course, we would write.

So, is it possible that as writers, we aren’t living enough?  I don’t think so, because if we are passionate about writing, writing is living.  Of course, this doesn’t mean we all need to shut ourselves away and never see our families or friends (though some writers in history have done that).  To me, it means that when you feel that inspiration, when you feel that need to write, you follow it.  Maybe that means you don’t go to the gym today or you don’t join your friends for another Happy Hour excursion or you use your day off to write.  There have been too many times when I thought I wasn’t balancing my life well enough, so even though I had an idea I wanted to get out, I pushed it back and put it on hold.  Sadly, sometimes we lose that idea or inspiration when we do that, and we end up feeling that ache that comes from the absence of writing in our lives.

Hearing from these established writers has been an inspiration to me.  Why should I feel guilty that sometimes, I just want to work on my stories?  My passion is not just writing, but storytelling in many different forms, and in order to develop that art, I need to be working on it.  When you love something — when you’re passionate about it — it’s not really work. It’s living.

I also wrote about passion and the work/life balance for Career Girl Network.  You can find more information about Nichole Bernier and her novel here.

My New Gig at Career Girl Network

This past week I started writing for Career Girl Network as an intern.  The founder is another fellow Marcy, and I am very excited to work with her this summer.  I will also be doing some video work for the website while continuing to work on my documentary on the side.  Of course, I will also be in class at night, finishing my final grad school course at DePaul.

My first two articles were published this week on Career Girl Network.  The first was a comment on Patrick Somerville’s recent article “Thank you for killing my novel.”  Patrick has published previous work with featherproof books, who I interviewed for the Independent Press Anthology last May.  Somerville reminds us writers why it’s important to accept all criticism, but not let it bring you down — even when someone mixes up your characters!  You can read my article here.

My second article focuses on a problem I tend to have — busyness.  I take a closer look and offer a personal spin on Tim Kreider’s “The ‘Busy’ Trap.”  This is an issue we discussed at length in my Independent Publishing class.  We analyzed the issue in terms of our need to be constantly connected to our devices, and how we often feel “lazy” for simply sitting and reading or writing.  Luckily, Independent Presses are around to remind us of the value of reading.  You can read my article “Busyness Equals Worth?” here.

I have begun editing a trailer and will soon be sending it out to the individual presses featured for approval.  I will be moving full speed ahead next week on editing the printed anthology, and will be filming at least two more interviews.

Learning to Live and Write

In an effort to graduate a few months sooner, I’m taking summer classes at DePaul.  My past life as a journalist has made my nonfiction skills strong and I decided to push my writing skills further, to other genres.  Last quarter I took a short story class and this quarter I’m in a scene and vignette writing course.  I have to admit, it’s not something I’m used to, and sometimes it’s easy to feel behind in comparison to those seasoned fiction and poetry writers.

Still, I think it’s important to push myself into doing those things I’m afraid of.  Since my time to graduation is ticking down and I will soon begin my job search, I’ve decided to move beyond my comfort level in other areas.

As a child, I never learned to swim.  I feared most normal childhood activities, and I was a little slower at learning to play at the park.  I was afraid of slides, ladders, swings — anything that took me off the ground.  Riding a bike was a challenge too, and even though I always had one, I didn’t ride it very often.

This summer I’ve been riding with my boyfriend on many of the trails in the northern suburbs.  I’ve survived 27-mile bike rides, and my goal is to build more each week.  I also bought a life jacket and got used to floating in a lake.  I was a little embarrassed when the three-year-olds around me were able to jump into the water without fear or without needing to hold on to the boat, but little by little, I’m learning to trust that I won’t sink with a life jacket on.  It may take another summer before I can take that life jacket off, but if I keep working toward it, if I keep trying, I can only improve.

If I learn to navigate these challenges, then my hope is I will learn to navigate my next big moves: Finish a documentary, publish some writing, find a job that will take me on the path I want — and recognize that that might not be the easiest or quickest path if I want to do something I love.

I had a breakthrough in class the other night, when a writing exercise finally clicked for me.  It clicked for me the weekend after I rode 27 miles, the weekend after I made my first attempts to learn to swim.  Sometimes you have to wait for the right moment, when your mind is warmed up and ready to explore new worlds.